Remembering the Dream
South Thomaston — Fifty years ago this week, Roberta "Bobbie" Goodell hopped on a train bound for Washington, D.C. to attend an event that would become a key part of civil rights history.
On Aug. 28, 1963, Goodell, now 78, of South Thomaston, was among hundreds of thousands of people to March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
The rally was organized by religious and civil rights groups to shed light on the political and social challenges African Americans faced across the country. It culminated with Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, calling for equality of all people, and led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, which had been stalled in Congress.
"Nobody had ever been in anything that big before together," Goodell said. "You didn't have that many people that traveled, made the intentional journey, to do something like that."
Goodell was working for the Chicago City Renewal Society, a faith-based organization that advocated for education, housing, jobs and more.
She had grown up in a small town in Massachusetts and after graduating from college decided to become a minister. Goodell moved to Chicago to attend seminary and found herself working at a summer church camp. She and two others from the camp were selected to represent the society at the march.
"It was the first big march of any kind and we didn't know what we were going to do," she said. "Just show how many hundreds of thousands of people can get together to say 'this is a mixed group, we are here, this is what America is.'"
The trio took a train from Chicago and rode all night long to get to Washington. Before the train departed, a photographer got on and asked a group of people to get off and pose for a photo waving to people leaving on the train. Goodell was among those photographed and the picture is included in "The Day They Marched" by Doris E. Saunders, a compilation of photographs directly related to the 1963 march.
Goodell said at the time no one had any idea how many individuals would show up or how many big speakers would attend, but it is estimated about 300,000 people attended. Some people marched hundreds of miles together in groups from larger cities, while others took buses and trains. The National Mall was filled with people. Celebrities such as Sammy Davis Jr., Paul Newman, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan showed their support by attending.
"I don't remember individual things, but you were supposed to be there, be a presence," she said.
Goodell said she was far back from the people speaking and reverb from the sound system made it difficult to hear the speeches. She and the two others she was with dipped their feet in the reflecting pool and tried to make their way closer to the stage. That night, they took the train back to Chicago.
One of her biggest concerns was if the police would overreact, spurring riots, which had happened in Chicago. But, Goodell said, that was not the case at all.
She said police were all over the place, ready for bad things to happen, but they never did. Nobody shoved, nobody pushed — it was a peaceful gathering and people were helping one other, Goodell said.
"As far as I could tell, it was completely benign. I don't remember hearing about and certainly didn't see any incidents of any kind. Nobody did anything," Goodell said.
After the march, however, Goodell said racism in Chicago became really "nasty." She said she was with an African American male friend once and they were walking together on the sidewalk with enough room for two groups to pass each other. A man attempted to walk directly into her friend and would have done so if she hadn't pulled him out of the way. She remembered another time a friend had obscenities yelled at him just because of the color of his skin.
Goodell also recalled a time a group of friends were on the north side of the city trying to find a place to eat. Her friend went in and came back out, shaking his head, and kept walking. When she questioned why, he told her one of their friends wouldn't be comfortable eating there.
"It was the first time it dawned on me that Lois was black," Goodell said, adding that the incident affected that whole group that day.
"That's what people forget; when you do something to one part of society, you are doing it to everybody," she said.
Courier Publications Copy Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at email@example.com.
594-4401 ext. 120
Kim Lincoln has worked for Courier Publications since 2003, serving as a reporter, assistant editor and copy editor.
During her time with the company she has worked for each of the three newspapers, The Courier-Gazette, The Camden Herald and The Republican Journal.
When she is not in the newsroom, Kim likes to be outside, whether it be gardening, swimming, hiking or just enjoying the sunshine.
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